Fiber Facts: The What, Why, and How

From Dr. Oz to the cereal commercial, fiber is something being promoted all over the place. And while we may all know we need fiber, we may not know exactly what it is or why we need it or how to get it. That’s what I am here to help you with.

What is Fiber?

Dietary fiber is all of the parts of a plant that your body cannot digest or absorb. Fiber, often referred to as bulk or roughage, passes through your stomach, intestines and colon mostly intact before leaving your body as waste. Some of the fiber we consume is digested by bacteria living in our GI tract, producing gas. That is why so many high fiber foods (think broccoli, cabbage, and beans) are often labeled “gassy foods”.

Dietary fiber is divided into 2 subcategories – soluble and insoluble fiber.

Soluble fiber. It dissolves in water to form a gel-like material and is found in foods like beans, apples, citrus fruits, and carrots.

Insoluble fiber. It adds bulk to your bowel movements and helps to move material through your digestive tract. Good sources of insoluble fiber include nuts, beans and vegetables, such as cauliflower and green and yellow wax beans.

Why should you eat fiber?

There are many reasons why eating a diet rich in fiber is beneficial. Some of those reasons are as follows:

  • Keeps you “regular” – fiber, in particular insoluble fiber, adds bulk to your stools and softens them, making it easier for your body to get rid of the waste. This reduces your risk of constipation. Diarrhea or loose stools can also be prevented with fiber by adding bulk and absorbing excess water.
  • Keeps your bowel healthy – a diet high in fiber seems to prevent hemorrhoids and diverticular disease.
  • May be good for your heart – soluble fiber lowers LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels, helping to lower total cholesterol levels. Fiber may also help reduce blood pressure.
  • Keeps blood sugars in check – soluble fiber in particular can slow how fast sugar is absorbed into your blood, keeping your blood sugar levels at a healthier level.
  • Helps you lose weight and keep it off – high fiber foods, such as fruits and vegetables, tend to be lower in calories and require more work to eat (think about a celery stalk, it’s virtually calorie free and takes an eternity to chew), making you eat slower and less overall. Don’t forget about your protein at meal times, but be sure to add some veggies to provide more volume and appeal to your meal.

How much fiber do you need?

Men need between 30-40 grams of dietary fiber per day and women need between 20-25 grams dietary fiber per day. To estimate how much fiber you are currently taking in and monitor your future intake of fiber, you may want to begin using an online or phone program to help calculate your daily intake. MyFitnessPal is one helpful tool that help you keep track.

How do you get enough?

After bariatric surgery it can seem like a great obstacle consuming enough protein and fluids, now throw fiber into the mix and it feels like an impossible task. If you are not able to consume enough fiber in your diet from foods, which is likely since protein-dense foods tend to lack fiber, a dissolvable fiber supplement is likely the way to go. Brands like Metamucil and Benefiber offer great help and can easily be mixed into your foods or fluids.

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